Ugandan women who give birth at Nysambya hospital are encouraged to have an attendant with them for the labour and delivery process. Usually this person is a mother, sister, aunt, or friend. There is no rule or policy that prevents the attendant from being a man, but from what I gather, this simply isn't "done." Husbands occasionally accompany their wives to the hospital, and I've even seen one or two skulk around outside of the unit, waiting for news from within.
Peter is a Ugandan man who works as the country director for an NGO dealing in rural development. He and his wife are expecting their first child in April and rarely have I seen a man so excited about becoming a father. This evening he told me that he wakes up at 5:30am so that he can make his wife breakfast. She has been tired lately and is still working long hours as the assistant manager of a bank. Peter asked me several questions about things he had read in his wife's "pregnancy book."
I mentioned to him that the absence of men from the delivery room is one of the most noticeable differences that I've observed on the labour ward. I explained that in Canada, it is often customary for the father of the baby to cut the umbilical cord at birth. Peter exclaimed, "That is what I want to do!" He had seen this in a movie and was happy to know that it really does happen. I was surprised, and the other men sitting with us at the table reacted with a combination of fear, disgust, and disbelief.
Peter went on to tell me that he has only missed 2 of his wife's many doctor's appointments and that he wished their doctor had a device that allowed him to hear the baby's heartbeat. (As I've mentioned previously, fetal dopplers do not exist around here).
I'm sorry that I won't be here when the big day comes in April. I hope that when it does, the doctor or midwife at the delivery will recognize Peter for the modern Ugandan man that he is, and give him a chance to cut the cord.